1990 was a pivotal year for music, as the trends of the 1980s began to fade and the final decade of the millennium commenced. There was a slew of top songs from 1990, and here are some of our favorites.
1. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
“Hold On” was the biggest hit from Wilson Phillips and remains the group’s most well-remembered track. The sound of this track helped shape the burgeoning new pop scene for the decade.
The song is upbeat and determined and makes you feel you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. Wilson Phillips was one of the many 90s girl bands to take the decade by storm. The group won a Grammy for “Hold On.”
2. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Conner
“Nothing Compares 2 U” remains one of the biggest tear-jerkers of the 1990s. Prince originally composed the song with his side project band, but Sinead O’Conner made it her own with this cover version.
This song was a smash hit, and it details a lover missing an ex-partner. This is a perfect song for when you’re feeling lonely and miss an important person in your life.
3. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode brought its electronic sound into a new decade with “Enjoy the Silence.” This song and its accompanying album “Violator” put the band on the map and established it as a force in popular electronic music.
“Enjoy the Silence” is melancholy and wistful. The instrumentation takes the listener to lonely places, and the song appropriately ends with haunting silence. This song helped showcase the band to both English and American audiences.
4. “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer
The late 1980s and early 1990s were fertile grounds for the burgeoning hip-hop and rap movements in America. “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer is an iconic song from the early days of rap.
No matter what you think of the song, you have certainly heard it through its frequent use in films and advertisements. The song is funky and helped initiate MC Hammer as an up-and-comer in the world of rap music.
5. “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC
The world was slowly moving away from the hard rock and roll of the 1980s by 1990. Nobody told AC/DC about this change.
The Australian hard rockers released “Thunderstruck” in 1990 and it became one of the band’s most acclaimed songs. Angus Young created one of his best guitar riffs for “Thunderstruck”, and the instrumentation drives the song. Since its release, this song has been included in several films and television shows. The song is played at every Dallas Cowboys home game.
6. “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains
In a world where bands like AC/DC were keeping the classic sounds of the 1980s alive, Alice in Chains was blazing a new path forward. “Man in the Box” draws from various elements, including the burgeoning grunge movement and alternative rock. The result of this mixture is a song that felt unique and new for the new decade.
Few would disagree that “Man in the Box” is good music from 1990, and it details the singer trying to break out of the censorship imposed around them.
7. “Vogue” by Madonna
Madonna did not miss a beat coming into a new decade with “Vogue.” The song was one of her biggest releases and remains a favorite of fans and critics worldwide. Madonna envisioned this song as an anthem, and it is the best-selling song of 1990.
Madonna drew inspiration from many sources for this song. It has a distinctly 1990s dance music bend, but it borrows heavily from disco aesthetics. The music video pays homage to the 1920s and 1930s.
8. “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite
If you are looking for good music from 1990, you will land on “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite quickly. The song is one of the best dance tracks of the year, and it remains a standout in the genre.
Deee-Lite took inspiration from many genres for this song, including disco music and hip-hop. The band even recruited Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest for a guest verse. The result is a perfect song to dance to at a club or wedding.
9. “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey broke into the mainstream with “Vision of Love.” The singer discusses feeling alien to the world, and it shows an intimacy and vulnerability that was uncommon for the music of the era.
“Vision of Love” was a smash hit and made Carey a household name. This song set the standard for R&B for years to come, and several singers have cited it as the inspiration for beginning their careers.
10. “More Than Words” by Extreme
“More Than Words” is an acoustic ballad that saw Extreme deviate from its typical output. The band was notable for its metal music before, and “More Than Words” allowed it to explore new genres and styles. The singer talks about a person hoping his lover will do something more than say “I love you” to showcase their love.
The song was a smash hit for the band, and its members called it both a blessing and a curse. While “More Than Words” helped introduce the band to new fans, it quickly eclipsed the rest of its output.
11. “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest was one of the biggest rap groups of the 1990s, and the band made its first splash in 1990 after a few years of working underground. “Can I Kick It?” is one of the group’s signature songs.
“Can I Kick It?” is a more straightforward song than some of the jazz-inspired music the group dabbled in later. It samples from many sources, most notably “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed.
12. “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J
“Mama Said Knock You Out” is an early example of a diss track, as LL Cool J ran down Kool Moe Dee throughout the song. Divorced from the diss track context, this song remains one of the defining rap songs of the early 1990s.
LL Cool J was already established by the time he released this song, but some felt he had fallen off. “Mama Said Knock You Out” was an anthem about his life, and it helped reinvigorate his career.
13. “Wind of Change” by Scorpions
1990 was a time of great political change throughout the world. Scorpions channeled that feeling with its song “Wind of Change.”
The band visited the Soviet Union before recording the song and noticed the different vibes as compared to earlier years. The members wrote this song about the upheaval and cultural shift occurring in front of their eyes. The song is one of the best-selling songs ever recorded.
14. “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory
Few songs are as instantly recognizable as “Gonna Make You Sweat.” The song has been featured in countless commercials and movies, and it was easily the most popular song C&C Music Factory ever produced.
The song brought several elements together, including rap, disco, and contemporary dance music. Anyone who attended a house party in the years that followed is sure to have this song burned into their brain.
15. “Freedom! ‘90” by George Michael
George Michael made a name for himself as a member of the wildly popular duo Wham!. The duo went their separate ways and Michael attempted to find his way in a new musical landscape with a new sound.
“Freedom! ‘90” is a song about looking back on your past successes and trying to push through to a new era. Michael has become more cynical about music and wants to be his own man, even though he will always be associated with his earlier successes. The song is about George Michael at his most vulnerable.
16. “Unbelievable” by EMF
Alternative rock went through a renaissance in the coming decade, but EMF ushered in the new age in 1990 with its song “Unbelievable.” The song takes inspiration from the R&B and hip-hop music of the time despite being alternative rock. Many future bands would take inspiration from this song and its genre-bending.
“Unbelievable” was a smash hit in the United Kingdom and Europe initially before taking the United States by storm. The song remains the best-charting song for EMF over its extensive career.
17. “Save Me” by Fleetwood Mac
Nobody in their right mind would tell you Fleetwood Mac was in its heyday during the 1990s. Despite the group’s waning popularity, it produced a hit in 1990 with “Save Me.” Christine McVie wrote and sang the song, and it was the last top-40 hit for the legendary band in America.
The song details a person who is in trouble and needs help. “Save Me” blends elements of pop, country, and rock music. Fleetwood Mac created a song that feels both modern and retro, and it would soon break up after the release of “Save Me.”
18. “The King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West
Go West was a British pop duo who never achieved the same mainstream success as some other bands on our list. However, “The King of Wishful Thinking” remains a well-remembered song in Go West’s discography that gained recognition for its inclusion in the film Pretty Woman.
The song describes a down-on-their-luck protagonist who desires something more. They do not believe they can achieve what they want and believe all they have in life is wishful thinking. The song’s production is upbeat and contrasts with its somber lyrics.
19. “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe
“Poison” was one of Bell Biv DeVoe’s biggest hits, and it combined elements from numerous genres. The group used the style of new jack swing when making this song, taking inspiration from swing, R&B, and rap of the era. This melding of genres creates a Frankenstein monster of a song that is interesting and listenable.
Band member Dr. Freeze wrote the song himself and did not originally intend it for a Bell Biv DeVoe album. He said his bandmates heard a demo and were impressed by the track’s eclectic quality, so they decided to include it on the upcoming album.
20. “Cemetery Gates” by Jane’s Addiction
Do not confuse this with a similarly titled Smiths song, “Cemetery Gates” by Jane’s Addiction attempted to be a tour de force for the band. The song is closer to a power ballad than other songs in the band’s discography. “Cemetery Gates” is the longest song in the Pantera library; the band wanted it to showcase Phil Anselmo’s vocals.
The song describes a distraught protagonist missing their lover who has died. They contemplate dying so they are reunited. Anselmo said he was inspired by several tragedies in his personal life.
21. “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins
Phil Collins dabbled in several genres throughout his storied career, and “Another Day in Paradise” saw him abandon dance-pop for a soft rock ballad. This song was his final number-one song in America, and he won a Grammy for it.
The song describes the singer noticing homelessness and wondering if there is anything they can do to put an end to it. The singer entreats the audience not to ignore the issues while enjoying living in paradise. Many critics found the song controversial at the time.
22. “Hold On” by En Vogue
“Hold On” by En Vogue has the dubious honor of being the second most famous song with that title in the year 1990. Just because it did not eclipse the Wilson Phillips song does not mean it does not have value, and this is good music from 1990.
The song blends R&B with new jack swing. En Vogue sampled James Brown for some of the instrumentation. “Hold On” went on to be one of the group’s biggest songs and released the song as its first single.
23. “Suicide Blonde” by INXS
INXS was already a popular band in Australia in the 1980s, but “Suicide Blonde” helped to usher the group into the new decade with new appreciation abroad. The song gathered inspiration from many genres, making it a mixture of electronic and rock music.
The band was inspired to write the song after watching the film The Delinquents. “Suicide Blonde” was the final song performed by band member Michael Hutchence live before his passing in 1997.
24. “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction
Jane’s Addiction had its biggest hit in 1990 with “Been Caught Stealing.” The song established the band as a harbinger of the new sound of alternative rock in the 1990s. The song famously features dog barks that accidentally came from lead singer Perry Farrell’s recently-adopted dog.
The song describes people shoplifting from a store. The band created a humorous music video showcasing comedic moments of people attempting to steal from a business.
25. “She Talks To Angels” by Black Crowes
“She Talks to Angels” served as one of the singles from the Black Crowes’ debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. The group has taken on several inspirations during its life, including Southern rock, roots rock, and blues rock.
Songwriter Chris Robinson said he wrote this song about a girl he used to know who did drugs. “She Talks to Angels” is lighter in instrumentation than other songs in the group’s discography; it is an acoustic guitar-driven song closer to folk music than rock.
26. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses are a band that requires no introduction, and it was one of the biggest groups of the late 1980s. Entering the 1990s, the band hit the ground running with its cover of the Bob Dylan song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” This version of the song remains the most popular cover and perhaps even more admired than Dylan’s original.
Dylan wrote the song for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and penned the lyrics to describe a scene in the film. Divorced from that context, the song remains popular and is one of Guns N’ Roses best-remembered songs.
27. “All the Man That I Need” by Whitney Houston
“All the Man That I Need” was not a song written for or by Whitney Houston. Despite Houston’s version being a cover, she gave the song new life; it became one of the artist’s biggest hits. Houston was already a star before recording her version of the track, and it helped cement her as one of the country’s biggest icons.
“All the Man That I Need” describes a singer who almost gave up on love until they found the right man. Now they feel love, and things have never looked better.
Top Songs From 1990, Final Thoughts
The year 1990 was a turning point in the world and music. Many new styles and artists emerged as the millennium rapidly approached its end. Many critics consider the decade that follows one of the most vibrant for both popular and independent music.
What is your top songs of 1990? Was there any good music from 1990 we missed? Let us know in the comments!